Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What's in a Word?:

Bobby and I cleared a field today. He cut trees and brush; I dragged them to the burn piles. The field, once a pasture, hadn't been bushhogged in 10 years or more. Now it is ready to become a hillside meadow again, as it was when Cebah kept her milkcow there, soon to be sown in clover. Everything in Bobby's world is done for the benefit of cows.

I only had mixed feelings at one point. I was elated at the cutting of the Russian Olive trees, invaders that kill out all of the native plants and quickly make inpenetrable and barren thickets, but I'm superstitious about cutting hawthorns. There was only one small one. At least I wasn't doing the cutting. And because it was all for the cows, somehow it seemed elementally ok. Bobby may be an Elf for all I know. He certainly acts like one. It's not like we card each other.

The hawthorn was erie when it burned. The countless tiny thorns ignited first and looked like christmas tree lights. Then all the branches jetted out blue flames as though they were hooked up to a gas line. Then the tree started to sing, a long thin whistle that stayed steady until it descended just before the tree was totally engulfed in flames.

I'm sure that I'm superstitious about cutting hawthorns because I've read that they are pixiefied. I guess the idea is that if you cut them the pixie whathave you jets out like those blue gas flames, gets attached to you and havoc ensues because you're not prepared to cope with it. And I've read you shouldn't bring the flowers in the house - their subtle strange slightly musky scent is simply a slower exudate of the same pixie-form gas that we burned up all in a flash ~ Up up in orange swirls of sparks to join the spangle of stars overhead, Venus and Mars flaring brilliant to match on the western curve of the celestial orb.

My cousin John was here the other day. He'd survived the removal of a lobe of his liver, and, bless him, the first trip he made on his own was to come back to Dutton Hill to visit his aunt Cebah. He brought us an eternity of ham. While he was here I pumped him for info about my grandfather, Daniel Hoskins Dutton, in hopes of finding another clue to the mysteries of "You'll Always Come Back." Boy did I land a big one. It's all in knowing what to ask.

I brought up the seventh son of the seventh son thing. My dad was the seventh son of the seventh son of the seventh son, something which I assume rarely happens. Amongst the Pennsylvannia Dutch (which my ancestors were amongst), just being a seventh son was enough to confer the power to heal certain aflictions. I think I've mentioned that my dad joked about this to me, telling me that as a 7th son to the power of 2 (he didn't even mention the 3) - he could cure "the itch". I didn't know what that was (scrofula, technically, or "the King's Itch" as it was known in yore) - but I did know that he had the power to suggest itches by claiming that he had gotten in chicken mites and that they were crawling on him. A couple of scratches on his arm and everyone in the room felt tiny critters MIGHT be crawling on them too. If you feel them now, my apologies to you.

So I thought the whole thing was another of his elaborate leg-pullings. There were plenty, believe me. When I was about 11 or 12 he told me that if I wanted to grow a moustache ( I did.) that I could rub the white part of chicken manure under my nose and hair would grow anywhere it was rubbed. I just recently found out that he told my sister Phyllis the same thing about her boobs - (that they would grow larger, not hair.) Manure as medicine is a whole nother topic - I'll come back to it, I promise.

When I started investigating the whole hex-doctor aspect of my father's seventh-son-dom, it turned out that he had also told Phyllis he could cure thrush in babies (a throat and mouth infection) by blowing in their mouths. This also was (and still is, actually) a common method in Pennsylvania Dutch communties where "powwow doctors", as they're known, practice, or so I've read. Second hand, second hand... (I digress...) AND then, Ruth Ann told me that he said he could also cure horses of "swinney", which turns out to be atrophy, or loss of flesh in a limb. and Phyllis confirmed that he had told her this too.

But where, I wondered, did my dad hear of these things? Cebah says he only "half believed" in it himself, and I took what he told me to be a kind of comic performance - a hilarious boast delivered with, of course, total humility. Besides, there weren't any babies around with "thrush", no itching kings, no swinneyied horses, and I suppose that is exactly why I never witnessed a demonstration.

What John told me was that my dad had told him that people used to bring their horses to my grandfather to get them cured of swinney, and that he took them to the spring (!) and poured water over them. That did it.

So now I know how it is done, and who my dad learned it from, but without the uncanny seventhness, or some other key to the power, I suppose it has fled, like the hawthorn pixiegasses, back into the either from which it sprang.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

If anyone is prepared to cope with the havoc of liberated pixie stuff, it's you, dear Fennel Fairy.

I am SO sorry I never got to meet your dad.